Recently, it is increasingly suggested that pathological narcissism is
the outcome of heredity (genes) or an epigenetically determined expression of
genes, including in brain abnormalities. Diathesis-Stress Models and
Differential Susceptibility Hypotheses are used to attempt to account for NPD.
What causes us to question the consensus regarding
narcissism since 1915?
Pathological narcissism is a life-long pattern of traits and
behaviours which signify infatuation and obsession with one's self to the
exclusion of all others and the egotistic and ruthless pursuit of one's
gratification, dominance and ambition.
from healthy narcissism which we all possess,
pathological narcissism is maladaptive, rigid, persisting, and causes
significant distress, and functional impairment.
narcissism was first described in detail by Freud in his essay "On
Narcissism" (1915). Other major contributors to the study of narcissism
are: Melanie Klein, Karen Horney, Franz Kohut,
Otto Kernberg, Theodore Millon,
Elsa Roningstam, Gunderson, and Robert Hare.
narcissism is a reaction to prolonged abuse and trauma in early childhood or
early adolescence. The source of the abuse or trauma is immaterial - the
perpetrators could be parents, teachers, other adults, or peers. Pampering,
smothering, spoiling, and "engulfing" the child are also forms of
To identify the role of heredity,
researchers have resorted to a few tactics: they studied the occurrence of
similar psychopathologies in identical twins separated at birth, in twins and siblings
who grew up in the same environment, and in relatives of patients (usually
across a few generations of an extended family).
Tellingly, twins - both those raised apart and together - show the same
correlation of personality traits, 0.5 (Bouchard, Lykken, McGue, Segal, and
Tellegan, 1990). Even attitudes, values, and interests have been shown to be
highly affected by genetic factors (Waller, Kojetin, Bouchard, Lykken, et al.,
review of the literature demonstrates that the genetic component in certain
personality disorders (mainly the Antisocial and Schizotypal) is strong (Thapar
and McGuffin, 1993). Nigg and Goldsmith found a connection in 1993 between the
Schizoid and Paranoid personality disorders and schizophrenia.
The three authors of the Dimensional Assessment of Personality Pathology
(Livesley, Jackson, and Schroeder) joined forces with Jang in 1993 to study
whether 18 of the personality dimensions were heritable. They found that 40 to
60% of the recurrence of certain personality traits across generations can be
explained by heredity: anxiousness, callousness, cognitive distortion,
compulsivity, identity problems, oppositionality, rejection, restricted
expression, social avoidance, stimulus seeking, and suspiciousness. Each and
every one of these qualities is associated with a personality disorder. In a
roundabout way, therefore, this study supports the hypothesis that personality
disorders are hereditary.
This would go a long way towards explaining why in the same family, with the
same set of parents and an identical emotional environment, some siblings grow
to have personality disorders, while others are perfectly "normal".
Surely, this indicates a genetic predisposition of some people to developing
Still, this oft-touted distinction between nature and nurture may be merely a
question of semantics.